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PHOTO TEST: restless, impulsive and distracted

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Living and learning with ADHD can be a nightmare

The severity with which attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and other neurodivergent brain processes affect an individual’s ability to function in modern society is often underestimated.

ADHD is the most common type of neurodivergent diagnoses, a category that also includes autism, dyslexia, borderline personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, among others. These conditions differ in severity depending on the person affected, and their prevalence and rate of diagnosis are increasingly common in the general population. In the United States, approximately 1 in 10 children has a neurodivergent diagnosis.

While the number of people diagnosed with ADHD is steadily increasing, many neurotypical people don’t understand what it really means to have a learning disability. Today, many scientists don’t even classify neurodivergence as a disability. Rather, they consider it to be a condition in which someone’s brain processes information and behaves differently than what is considered “typical.”

Consequently, ADHD treatment often focuses on coping with differences rather than curing what was once perceived as a disease. Although the effects of ADHD are lifelong, its symptoms can be treated with medication and/or therapy.

Despite a growing understanding of the condition, there is still a lack of support for people with ADHD. Neurodivergent individuals are often considered immature or deviant; viewed as class clowns or troublemakers for behaviors they often cannot control. These symptoms fall into two categories: inattention (difficulty paying attention and concentrating) and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity.

ADHD also belongs to a larger brain-related problem: executive function disorder (EFD). It affects the mind’s ability to break down a larger problem into smaller, more manageable parts.

This series of photos interprets the experience of living with a neurodivergent mind.

In addition to the effects of inattention and hyperactivity, neurodivergent individuals often experience overwhelming sensations during daily activities and become hyper-obsessed with certain interests.

Take for example some common experiences of living in a big city like Montreal. People, noise, lights, and vehicles are all stimulating sites that an ADHD brain can overestimate in severity or, worse, become dangerously distracted. As a result, an after-school walk can turn into a raging stampede.

Reality distortions are also compounded by related conditions that often simultaneously cause neurodivergent individuals, such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia. People tend to dissociate to cope with the mental overload caused by these conditions, leading to feelings of detachment from their bodies or the impression that the world is not real.

All of this to say that being neurodivergent doesn’t have to be all bad. Having a different way of perceiving reality can be very interesting, as long as the people involved and the people who support them are well informed and understanding.

This article originally appeared in Volume 43, Issue 6, published November 8, 2022.

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